Rick Bozich thinks it's wrong that all four of UK's prized recruits next year have opted to play in the McDonalds All-American game and the Jordan Brand Classic (Nike), which has, in recent years, established itself as second only to the McDonalds event in prestige, rather than ditching one of the two for the Kentucky Derby Festival Classic. A recruit can only play in two all-star events like that according to NCAA by-laws.
Dan Owens, recruiter for players to come to to the KDF Classic, had this to say:
"It's the first time I can remember there won't be a signed Kentucky recruit. It's insulting to Kentucky fans in the state, and it's insulting to our game. I don't understand it."
I agree that it is a shame that none of the four will be coming to play in the KDFC. It means that I will be deprived of an opportunity to see them before they arrive on campus, as I did two years ago with Daniel Orton and Jon Hood. But I hardly think it is "insulting" to the KDFC.
I understand that supporters of the KDFC want to believe that this is one of the premiere all-star games in the country, and it surely is. But what it is not is on par with the McDonalds and Nike events in terms of national cachet and media buzz, as well as high-profile basketball attendees. I don't like saying that any more than Mr. Owens wants to hear it. But if he is honest, and I have no reason to believe he isn't, he will be forced to admit this as a fact.
More after the jump.
Kentucky does not tell recruits where the should play their all-star basketball, and all four players released a joint statement today saying they would be playing in the Nike and McDonalds events, and therefore would not be able to play in the KDFC:
On Tuesday, UK released a statement from the families of Gilchrist, Teague, Davis and Wiltjer saying that they were "honored that our sons have been considered for so many prestigious all-star games, but the NCAA only allows them to play in two such events."
As a result, the statement said, the players will "fulfill their lifelong dreams of playing in the McDonald’s All-American game and the Jordan Brand Classic."
Okay, then, why the outrage? Those of us who closely follow the sport, including ditto-ditto-Rick Bozich, know perfectly well the Nike and McDonalds events are the two most prestigious all-star games by a significant amount. It is what it is, and despite the longevity and local engagement in the KDFC, at some point we all have to look the truth in the eye.
Yet, that's just not enough for Mr. Owens, or Mr. Ditt-ditto:
"They're disregarding Kentucky fans and disregarding the great tradition of our game," Owens said.
Another ditto. Put the four UK signees, the four Louisville recruits, the two IU recruits and two WKU recruits in the KFC Yum! Center and what do you have? I say a standing-room-only event.
Yeah, guys, I guess if you call preferring one event to another "disregard," that's exactly what they're doing. In reality, though, we know the players mean no disrespect, and owe absolutely none of these events anything. They have said they were honored by the invitation, but prefer to play elsewhere. That's all.
Look for all four University of Louisville recruits, including Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan, a pair of McDonald's All Americans.
Both Indiana University recruits, including forward Cody Zeller, are expected to play. Western Kentucky should also have two players, led by guard Derrick Gordon.
In all probability, none of these worthies with the possible exception of Zeller was likely invited to both the McDonalds and Nike events. None of them are among the top ten recruits in the country. Finally, Behanan is from Kentucky, so it makes perfect sense he should want to play here.
Finally, Bozich sinks to a conspiracy theory:
They get a pass for the McDonald's game. It's the gold standard. But the Jordan Brand? That's the gold standard for Nike, which, now that I think about it, also happens to be the preferred sneaker at Rupp Arena. It's gotta be the shoes — or just a coincidence, right?
Oh, yeah. That's what it is. UK wants them to attend the JBC because it's a Nike event and the KDFC is only a home-town event where tons of the University of Kentucky's patrons will be disappointed. I don't know if that's a conspiracy theory or an insult to the intelligence of the University of Kentucky, as well as an accusation that they are lying when they said they had nothing to do with the decision.
What Bozich and Owens are really lamenting, maybe without even realizing it, is the fact that the KDFC has no special meaning to these young men. None of them are from Kentucky, none of them have any particular allegiance to the school just yet, and let's be honest -- none of them really wants to be here. Every one of them wants to be in the NBA, not one year from now, not one month from now, but right now -- today. They have to do their time in college because the NBA says they can't be drafted yet, and absolutely none of them plans on being at Kentucky longer than one year.
I sympathize with Owens (not Bozich, though -- his parrot act is not based in fandom or honesty, but in dissimulation). I remember the days when players like Jack Givens, Melvin Turpin, or Rex Chapman would have unquestionably taken the KDFC over the Nike event, primarily and proudly due to the fact that they were from the Commonwealth.
But blaming UK's recruits for effectively being imports from elsewhere is not fair to them, not fair to the University of Kentucky, not fair to Coach Cal, and not fair to UK fans. These young men and their families have a perfect right to choose the events that are to their best advantage, and in spite of my love for the KDFC, based on the realities of today's college basketball, their choices are unquestionably the correct ones.
So to Mr. Owens, absent the hyperbole, I say, "Sir, I feel your pain." But it's a sign of the times.